Friday, August 24, 2012

The End of the Beginning

After nearly seven weeks in Europe I'm finally headed home.  I wasn't selected for the Tour de L'Avenir that starts on Sunday, so I'll be back in Seattle instead.  I suppose it's a little bit of a bummer to not be doing the race, but I'm ready to be home.  I've accomplished more during this past Summer than I ever imagined was possible.  I'd already reached a point of satisfaction way back in June with my podium placing in the Nationals road race.  Being invited to race in Europe was a dream come true.  Winning the Tour de Delta was absolutely incredible. 

I've been thinking a lot especially over the past two weeks about all of the success I've had this summer.  As a good friend and supporter wrote to me, "You're living the dream with your eyes wide open."  I really have been living my dreams over the past several months and I'll remember these times forever.  But what happens after you live those dreams?  Life isn't suddenly complete, but I'd never really thought much beyond the dreams which I was reaching for.  This obviously isn't the end though; it's only the beginning.  Over the past couple of weeks I've been able to create new dreams.  On to the next one.

Thanks for following along here over the past two months.  I'm likely to be done blogging for a while.  I've got a little bit of road racing left back in the US.  Next up will be a miniature (in more ways than one) cyclocross season.  Stay tuned HERE for more regular updates if you are so inclined.

I got a jump start on that 'cross season for my last ride in Switzerland.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Life is great, but there haven't been any thrilling individual events to blog about for a while.  This post might turn into sort of a ramble, but if you just want to know what I've been up to feel free to read on.  Otherwise you should probably go back to looking at pictures of people you don't know on facebook.

My stay at Bernina Pass was nice and I handled the altitude better than I was expecting.  I took it easy for a few days after finishing the Tour de Namur.  After some rest I was able to join my teammates for at least some of their riding.  They had all been at altitude for a week before I arrived, so while I wasn't expecting to be riding much with them I was still able to get some pretty decent training in.

Our director, Marcello, evaluates Nate's mini-golf technique on our rest day.
After a week at the top of Bernina we drove for a long time to do a one-day race in Italy called the GP Poggiana.  I was pretty stoked, there were some steep climbs in the middle portion of the race that I figured might suit me well.  The race started out with 55k of flat roads within some large start circuits.  I managed to work my way into the 30 rider breakaway/field split that escaped after 15k of racing.  Going into the first of the big climbs after 65k we had 3.5min on the peloton.  This was real great.  We started up the first of the categorized climbs and I was riding near the front.  This was real great.  We were within 1k from the summit and I was still up front and looking to make a run for some KOM points.  This was real great.  All of the sudden we were at the top and I followed 2 guys that knew where the summit was, so I was 3rd over the top and picked up some KOM points.  This was good.  Then we started descending.  This is where things turned terrible.  Maybe the 3rd or 4th corner was one of those corners that just keeps on cornering a bit more than one expects.  I was going way too fast, didn't make it, and then summersaulted into a ditch.  I thought I was okay and my bike seemed okay so I tried to get going quickly and rejoin the front group.  The problem was this descent was not yet over.  So I rode off the road two more times on the way down for good measure.  When I finally got to the bottom I think I was about a minute behind the lead.  I tried to pedal real hard up the next few hills in hopes of getting back on, but my right hip was complaining about what I'd done to it a few minutes earlier.  That was pretty much it for me. Eventually the peleton caught me and with my reduced pedaling capablilty I was out the back.  I rode back to the start by myself.  I was real sad for about half an hour thinking of what could've been.  Next I realized how I hadn't crashed in a road race in more than a year.  I got over it.

The next day we scrambled out of Italy and back to Switzerland.  The team wasn't headed back to altitude though so I've been graciously hosted by my friend Christian and his family for the past week.  Christian stayed at my house several times for the Starcrossed cyclocross race in the Fall and recently retired from racing.  It's been great to hang out with him and his family this past week.  While I also have tons of fun hanging out with my USA teammates it has been nice to feel a little more like I'm "living" in Europe.  I'll trade a hotel room for a place in a house any day.

Swiss kids play with tractors.  I think that is so cool!
On Wednesday I met up with my teammates for the local Wednesday Night World Championships in Brugg.  Perhaps one of the coolest things about cycling is that nearly every place has some sort of week night racing series in the summer.  Usually the entry fee is very low and it's mostly for fun and training.  Switzerland does it big though.  There was a good sized grand-stand full of spectators that were able to see most of the 1k long course.  The race was run as a sort of points race. I think it was 2pts for the leader of each lap and then every 5 laps or so there was a sprint for 5pts to the winner of that lap.  It was something along those lines at least.  I was stoked to be racing a criterium again, even if the corners were very rounded and without curbs.  The race started fast and I picked up some points where I could without putting any huge efforts in.  Right at the halfway point my teammate Evan Huffman and I both followed an attack by another rider that came immediately after one of the bigger points sprints.  We got a small gap and starting working well together.  The chasers kept us at about 10sec for a few laps until suddenly the elastic snapped and we were half a lap ahead of the field.  Evan was absolutely killing it and spent far more time on the front scooping up well deserved points.  They announced over the loudspeaker that he was in the lead and we just kept on rolling to the finish.  Evan won and I finished 3rd in the points standings.  Our average speed for more than an hour of racing on the flat and fast course was 29.5mph!
The break with Pirmin Lang and Evan Huffman.
Wednesday Night Worlds podium action.  Serious business here in Switzerland.
I've gotten some great training in over the past few days on some of the longer climbs around Christian's house in Tuggen.  I'm feeling good and having a great time.  A week from tomorrow I'll either be starting a big stage race or heading home.  Only time will tell.
Looking down upon the town of Schwyz and the Lake of Lucerne.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tour de Namur Stages 4 & 5

Stage 4
The elevation profile of this stage made it look pretty burly, especially in the final 50k.  I was hoping the final climbs would force a selection and that a very small group would finish together.  For a nice change the breakaway went within the first 30min of the race.  The race leader’s team began riding tempo at the front and things seemed to be in order.  My teammates did an excellent job of keeping me near the front throughout the first 100k of the race.  It wasn’t to be without any excitement though…  I broke a spoke at the 80k mark and received me first wheel change ever from a race with a caravan.  I got back into the peloton fairly easily and was back in position before the first of the climbs in the final 50k.  There was a small breakaway about a minute ahead, but the entire Omega-Pharma development team was on the front drilling it.  The race was single file for the next 30k.  With 20k to go I followed an attack over the top of the 2nd to last climb.  We formed a group of 5 riders, 2 of which were on the same time overall as I was and 2 others who were at least interested in riding for the stage win.  We rallied the descent and with 15k remaining our gap was about 15 seconds.  We had about 5k of flat, a small climb, descent, and then about 5k of flat before the finish.  This was a good opportunity and I did my share of the work to keep our gap.  We worked alright together but the peloton brought us back right at the top of the final climb.

The break riding through town with about 10k to go.
Maybe things could have played out differently if I'd waited until the final climb and attacked there?  No regrets though, I gave it a go.  The run into the finish was quite hectic with several crashes in the final 3k.  I was a bit too far back for any real sprinting, but I finished on the same time as the other GC contenders again.

Stage 5
I went to bed last night just thinking of how much opportunity I had.  I was sitting in 7th overall before the start of the final stage, only 5 seconds back from the race lead.  The course was fairly hilly, but most importantly finished with a 3k climb up to the Citadel de Namur.  I’d researched the course and elevation profiles carefully.  I knew that the final climb wasn’t very steep with an average grade of less than 5% and that the final 1k was nearly flat.  My chances for distancing all of the other GC favorites on the shallow grade weren’t great, but I knew I was certainly going to try.
Signing in for the final stage as the race announcer says over the loudspeaker, "Steve Feesher, le petite Americaun."
The first 60k of the stage was very hard.  There were tons of attacks, but not just from guys looking to make it into the break of the day.  Pretty much all of the other guys in the top 10 overall were attacking within the first hour of the race.  I did what I needed to do in order to mark the big riders, but I tried to conserve as much as possible.  Finally after 60-70k a break of about 10 riders got away and the race became a bit more controlled.  My teammates did an incredible job keeping me out of the wind and near the front until the finale.
Following one of the many attacks towards the beginning on the stage.
The last 30k of the race featured a handful of climbs before dropping down one last time and tackling the finishing climb to the Citadel.  With the breakaway dangling about a minute ahead the pace up those climbs was nuts.  Over the second to last climb I followed an attack that drew out the yellow jersey and one other rider, but we didn’t get too far.  Going in the base of the final climb the leader’s team was drilling it along the river and I was in good position.  We took a hard left onto the climb and the pace didn’t really accelerate like I thought it would.  With the little lull I attacked coming out of the first switch back with a little under 3k remaining.  I opened up a small gap of maybe 5 seconds and kept on pushing.  I gave it everything, but I was caught with 1.5k to go.  I held onto the leader’s group for dear life over the next 500m knowing the final 1k would be flatter.  A group of riders counter-attacked my move and got away for the stage win.  I finished right behind the yellow jersey in a fairly small group.
Finish of the race in front of the Citadel de Namur.
I ended up finishing 6th overall.   That is a great result and I’m certainly satisfied with it.  I was tied on time with 3rd overall though and that would have been incredible.  With no time trial in this stage race, the tie was broken by adding up all of our individual stage places with the lower totals coming out ahead.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tour de Namur Stages 1-3

My apologies that it’s been a while since I’ve updated here.  I could make excuses, but I try to avoid those.  I’ll just tell you that I couldn’t be bothered to blog during the 5-day long Tour de la Province de Namur.  The racing was going well so I conserved energy by limiting myself to 140 characters at a time on Twitter.  Allow me to bring you all up to speed before some delayed race reporting.  I feel like I’ve got some good fitness again and the team has asked me to stay in Europe longer.  After Namur finished I got in a car and drove to Switzerland.  I’m now staying at the top of Bernina Pass, about 7,500 feet high, in the SE corner of Switzerland. I’ve never been this high before in my life with the exception of airplanes.  But there is pretend air on airplanes and also no stairs to walk up leaving you out of breath. There are 5 other riders here doing a little training camp.  On Sunday we will do a one-day race in Italy.  Then after that my future is pretty uncertain.  I might be staying longer and doing some big bike races, or I might be headed home.  I’ll let you know as soon as I know.  Here is part 1 of my report from Namur:

Stage 1
The first stage of any stage race is always a little crazy and this was not exception.  The first hour of racing was fast with lots of attacks, but nothing stuck.  The biggest climb of the day was midway through the race and I hit that in good position.  I followed a guy on the Fuji Test Team and before we knew it we had a small gap to the field.  Then shortly after none other than Kennett Peterson had come across to us.  This being the only “Cat 1” climb of the day I knew the first guy over the top had a good chance of taking the KOM jersey at the end of the stage.  I sprinted for a red polka-dotted sign after we’d been climbing for a while.  That signed turned out to be informing us that the real line for the sprint was still 1000m away.  Then Kennett sprinted for some other white line on the ground.  Then shortly there after that the Fuji guy sprinted for a white line at the ground where a moto official had stopped to watch the proceedings.  He was the true winner and would go on to take the KOM jersey.

Kennett "Catfish" Peterson racing for the Flanders team in red.
What happened next is sort of the important part.  I guess we’d gone up this climb pretty fast, and what was left of the field behind had also gone fast in pursuit of us.  We were left with a group of about 40 riders over the top and down the other side of the climb.  There was some pretty disorganized work to keep us ahead of the main peloton, but soon enough our gap was up to about 2 minutes.  We still had about 75k to the finish so we needed to get a little more organized.  Fast forward through a lot of Belgians yelling, gesturing, and not doing their share of the work.  There was a short steep climb with 20k left in the stage where it split again.  I dug deep to make the split of 16 riders and most everyone worked well to establish our new gap.  Attacking started again with just under 10k left in the stage.  I was feeling good and didn’t want to let anyone get away.  I covered move after move in what turned out to be the hardest finale I’ve ever taken part in.  I think I was a bit gassed for the sprint and too far back.  I finished 11th on the stage and in a great position for the rest of the race.

Trying to keep the front group moving up a small climb with a ways to go still.

Stage 2
For whatever reason I don’t remember a ton about this stage while writing about it a week after it happened.  Perhaps the most memorable moment was arriving at the race, unzipping my bag, and immediately realizing that I’d forgotten to bring bib shorts.  Real terror and panic!!!  If you don’t race bikes, imagine if you’d shown up to your quarter-final high-school basketball game and forgotten your right hand.  Yes, you are right handed too!  I needed some bibs like you needed your right hand.  One of my teammates had an extra pair, thing is they were size large.  So 40min before the start and the photograph below is where I’m at.

Thankfully with the help of our director I was able to get some slightly smaller plain black shorts before the start.  The feeling of forgetting your shorts is terrible.  Probably almost as bad as forgetting your shoes.  I’m knocking on wood right now though cause I’ve never done that, yet.  Okay, so then the race happened.  I made a huge effort to get across to what I thought was another winning split through some crosswinds with less than 20k to go.  Unfortunately we hit a less windy part of the course and it all came back together.  We finished up a very gradual 2k climb.  I finished somewhere in the 30’s on the same time as the other GC contenders.

Stage 3
This was my favorite stage of the race.  The flattest of all the days, we thought it would probably end in a bunch sprint.  Think again!  There was a rather small climb 25k into the 150k stage that turned the race absolutely upside down.  We went up the climb pretty hard, hard enough to string out the pack.  It was really over the top of the climb where it was windy that things got crazy.  Before I knew it I was rotating through in a lead group of 35 riders with one of my USA teammates, Eamon.  The yellow jersey wearer had been caught out along with a few other fast guys.  Almost immediately we had 2.5 minutes on the chasing field and the group was working well together.  With still 125k to go I did my best to save energy, but also not let the group slow down much.  The gap grew a little bit more as we rode through head or head crosswinds for most of the day.  By the time we reached the 20k finish circuit I knew the damage was done and our group would go all the way to the finish.  There were some attacks in the last 15k, but nothing gained too much ground and the Rabobank Off-Road team seemed in control of the group. I was really looking forward to giving the finish a go.  There were several turns in the final kilometer and I thought my chances this group were decent.  There was 1 rider off the front by himself by a handful of seconds when we hit 1k to go.  He crashed in a narrow corner with 800m to go and I got shuffled back a bit too far as we navigated around him and his bike.  Eamon tried his best to move me back up, but I had to do most of my sprinting to close a small gap with 600m to go.  I think I finished 11th on the stage again.  Great day for my GC position, moving me into 6th overall.  I was a bit proud of myself for riding so well in the wind today as well.  I felt like I’d really used the skills I’ve learned over the past several weeks in regards to positioning and recognizing the key moments of the race.

Take a moment and look at everything going on in this photo.  They guy(s) with the yellow flag ride ahead on motorcycles and stop in order to signal turns or traffic furniture.  If you can find me in this picture you'll see there is no way my bike is pointed towards the apex of that corner.  I made my own apex on the sidewalk. I've learned some things the Belgian way.